Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
MEANING OF SUNNATARAM
‘Pure mind forest monastery.’ Also known as Samnak Pah Sunyataram.
Ban Kroeng Kra Wia, Tambon Prang Phea, Ampher Sangkhla Buri, Kanchanaburi 71180.
Located 302 km northwest of Bangkok. Take a train (from Bangkok Noi Station) or bus (from Southern or Southern AC bus terminals) west 128 km to Kanchanaburi, then hop on a bus or minibus bound for Sangkhla Buri; ask to be let off at the monastery, which is 174 km from Kanchanaburi and 42 km before Sangkhla Buri, between kilometer posts 32 and 33 on Hwy. 323. The monastery is just east of the highway.
Anapanasati and metta.
Dhamma talks by Phra Ajahn Yantra and other senior monks. Tapes of Phra Ajahn Yantra are often played during the evening meditation period. He and other senior monks will answer questions.
Phra Ajahn Yantra Amaro (Thai; age 40) and senior monks. The teacher travels extensively and maybe gone most of the time. He is highly respected for his metta and skill at teaching meditation. People also look up to him as a good example of how one can be happy despite life’s difficulties.
Phra Ajahn Yantra and a few other monks can speak some English.
The monastery covers 280 rai (112 acres) in a beautiful forested valley enclosed by steep mountains. This karst area has many sinkholes, caves, and strange-shaped rocks. Phra Ajahn Yantra discovered the site while on tudong, then founded the monastery in 1984.
A small river flows through the valley, separating the women’s and sangha areas. On entering the monastery, you’ll pass the women’s area on the right, then cross a bridge to the sangha area; monks greet visitors at a small sala just past road’s end. Except on Wan Phra, the rest of the sangha area is normally closed to nonresidents. Phra Ajahn Yantra’s kuti is perched high atop a rocky pinnacle; ask if you can visit. Caves near the monastery can be used for meditation.
- monks: 10-100
- novices: 5-20
- nuns: about 30
- laywomen: 30-50
- laymen: 5-10
3:30 am. wakeup; 4-6 am. chanting and meditation; about 6 am. monks and novices go on a long, 6-km pindabat; 8:30 am. monks and novices go on a second pindabat within the monastery; 9 am. chanting (reflection on food) and meditation for about 30 min., followed by the meal; 3 pm. work period; about 4 pm. drink; 6-8 pm. chanting (about one hour) and meditation (a recording of a Dhamma talk by Phra Ajahn Yantra is often given during the first half of the meditation period); 8 pm. sometimes a senior monk gives a talk.
Vegetarian of good quality and variety. Monks and novices go on pindabat for rice; laypeople at the monastery reoffer the rice and offer food prepared in the kitchen. A large garden beyond the women’s kutis provides much of the community’s requirements. Unusual for Thailand, the monastery and its branches take only vegetarian food as part of a Metta practice.
Individual kutis of various sizes and materials in both the sangha and women’s areas; some have screens. When many visitors are expected, as during the Rains Retreat and when Phra Ajahn Yantra stays, simple bamboo kutis are built. Laypeople can stay in kutis, if available. Laymen who follow 8 precepts can stay in the sangha area. Only larger buildings have electricity and running water. Thai-style bathrooms (men can also use a bathing stream in the sangha area); Asian-style toilets.
WRITE IN ADVANCE?
Not necessary. Expect crowded conditions during the Rains Retreat and when Phra Ajahn Yantra is in residence; it’s a good idea to visit a month or more ahead of these times to arrange accommodation. Groups should write in advance at any time.
Men practice as 8-precept laymen to learn Vinaya and chanting; when the community feels the person is ready, he can ordain as a monk (no need to be a novice first if 20 or more years old). No ordination ceremonies take place here; foreigners usually ordain at Wat Bovorn in Bangkok. Women can apply to stay as a magee (nun) but must ordain elsewhere.
Malaria exists here, so it’s important to use netting and insect repellent. A small library has some English books. Laypeople who follow 8 precepts wear white clothing. The monastery welcomes all traditions of Buddhist monks and laypeople. Visiting monks who follow strict Vinaya can sit with resident monks for eating and daily chantings. Residents follow a strict forest tradition practice. Nearly all monks go on tudong after the Rains Retreat ends; some monks make a resolution to travel only by foot for a certain time.
Populations at this monastery and its branches fluctuate greatly because of the tudong practice. Branch monasteries offer excellent conditions for meditation practice too; they can usually accommodate small numbers of visitors. Some English may be spoken at Tham Wua and Wat Sab-Chan.
KOW KAEW SUNNATARAM on an island in nearby Khao Laem Reservoir offers much solitude; first ask permission to stay from the main monastery.
In northwestern Thailand, THAM WUA SUNNATA has caves and a spectacular setting beneath sheer limestone cliffs; it’s located about 45 km north of Mae Hong Son, then 1.5 km in by dirt road or trail (Ban Mae Su Ya, Tambon Huai Pha, Amphoe Muang, Mae Hong Son 58000).
In eastern Thailand, WAT SAB-CHAN (SUNNATARAM) lies in a valley surrounded by fruit orchards and forested hills 27 km west of Chanthaburi, then 2 km in by road (Tambon Na Yai Arm, Amphoe Tha Mai, Chanthaburi 22160).
In central Thailand, DHAMMALEELA MEDITATION CENTER is surrounded by a golf course 40 km northeast of Bangkok (Klong 14 Rangsit, Tambon Bang Pla Kot, Amphoe Ongkharak, Nakhon Nayok 26120). [NEW LISTINGS IN 1994] DHAMMA KAMALA: Meditation courses organized by students of S.N. Goenka take place occasionally; contact Mrs. Sutthi Chayodom, 65/9 Soi 1 Chaengwattana Road, Bangkhen, Bangkok 10210; tel. (02) 521-0392 or 552- 1731.
These intensive vipassana courses follow the tradition of the late Sayaghi U Ba Khin of Burma.
WAT LUANG PHOR SODH DHAMMAKAYARAM: This temple in Rajburi Province offers teaching in the Vijja Dhammakaya meditation technique, as taught by the late abbot of Wat Pak Nam (affectionately known as Luang Phor Sodh) in Bangkok. Distinctive white temple buildings stand in a landscaped park area. The abbot, Phra Ajahn Maha Sermchai Jayamanggalo (Thai; age 65), gives instruction in Thai and English during the meditation periods; some other monks can also give instruction in English; tapes and literature are available, too. Resident monks number 30-35 (35-60 during the Rains) with 25-30 novices, 10-12 nuns, and 10-15 laypeople. Large numbers of laypeople visit on the first Saturday of each month and on major holidays; large retreats take place in April (for youths), May, and December. Writing in advance is recommended to make sure that the abbot is in residence, as he is the main English- speaking teacher. The temple is 94 km southwest of Bangkok; from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal, you can take an ordinary bus 78 and ask to be let off at the gate; or take an air-conditioned bus to Damnoen Saduak Bus Terminal, where you can catch a yellow songtaew to the temple. Address: Damnoen Saduak District, Rajburi Province 70130; telephone/fax (032) 254650. (Information provided by temple secretary; the author has not visited here.